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FJORD FOCUS

This article was written by the intrepid reverend Bob Shepton on our passage to Norway in search of remote and pristine snow capped peaks falling straight into the sea. It was first published in Sailing Today, October 2017.

Click on spread below to read the full article:

 

My trip from Inverness to Norway came about almost by accident. Initially, I was hoping to fl y out to Gåssten, a converted Swedish minesweeper, for some ski touring in Norway with Fjord Adventures. At the same time I received an email:

‘We are on the way north to the west coast of Scotland, do you know where there are any moorings we could pick up?’

Obviously a man after my own heart not wanting to pay marina or mooring fees. We duly met up in Oban where Tim had moored Shadowfax, of Lord of the Rings fame but this was a boat, by the Oban Sailing Club, which I had not recommended as you are duty bound to give a donation for picking up one of their moorings. During a pleasant chat over coffee, Tim suggested

“you want to get to Norway and we do not have offshore experience, why not hitch a lift across with us via Shetland.”

So I did. Having given them a hand the next day up Neptune’s Staircase, the locks at the start of the Caledonian Canal, I joined them a few days later in Inverness. Next morning at 0900hrs we locked out of the Caledonian Canal. Chris, described by Tim as being as strong as an ox, and he certainly kindly did more than his required share of the watches, arrived by plane at this point as we were waiting to take the final sea lock out into the Moray Firth.

We then soon came up to the long Kessock road bridge across from Inverness to the Black Isle before getting out properly to sea. As I approach bridges like this there is nearly always an optical illusion and I wonder whether it’s high enough and whether we will pass safely underneath. It brought back memories of passing under various bridges in years past – the road bridge across to Manhattan after the Statue of Liberty coming up the Hudson River to New York, by contrast the much lower bridge in the Faroes, with us fortunately stemming the tide slightly for a controlled approach, to get up the long channel splitting the islands, and of course in Holland, though one in particular stands out here as we did bend our VHF aerial under it owing to a slight error of judgement.

En route to Lerwick!

Once through I embarrassingly suggested that “technically perhaps we should be passing the other side of that buoy?”, conscious that the buoyage runs clockwise around the British Isles, but of course the channel turns southwards here, counter-clockwise, to go up channel to Inverness so I was firmly put in my place. Now as a lowly crew member who prefers to sleep half sitting up I was assigned the only possible bunk to fit such criteria, in the forepeak which is usually not the most comfortable berth on a boat, especially as it turned out when passing the eastern entrance to the Pentland Firth with its fearfully strong tides. The boat rolled strongly from side to side, presumably affected by the strong pull of the tide, and it was necessary to jam my arms hard down either side of my body within the slot made by the cockpit seat cushions already jammed in place to make a good sea berth, to prevent rolling violently, myself, from side to side when trying to sleep. But we had a pleasant sail up to the Shetlands though with variable wind, and to the owner’s chagrin requiring quite a bit of motoring as well.

First Fair Isle loomed out of the mist to port and then on a pleasant evening we came up to Sumburgh Head. On the chart were the words ‘Area To Be Avoided’ just to the east of the headland, but when we phoned the Coastguard to check about this we got the impression they did not really know why it said that either but advised ‘Exercise care at that point’! So we proceeded on to Lerwick and into the south harbour to moor up against the quayside, being careful to lay a spring so that we would not be pushed into a large catamaran immediately forward of our bows. It was interesting that after the catamaran had left the next day all the other boats there were Norwegian. There was a suspicion in the air that the fact that the booze is much cheaper in the Shetland Islands than in Norway could be part of the motive for their visit, especially as the first thing the big catamaran had said to us the night before as we tied up after a two day passage was,

“Hurry, the booze store closes any minute now!”

Lerwick, originally known as Leirvik meaning Muddy Bay – I imagine some Viking Chief had jumped down from his boat and got his feet dirty – also had all that we needed by way of supermarkets to renew stores. We also took the opportunity to hire a car and have a look around the main island of Shetland doing the tourist thing of visiting the Sumburgh lighthouse and noticing how the trees were bent over double because of the strong winds. Now Emmie, the lady of the boat, was no mean artist, specialising in painting old buildings in acrylics with her paintings exhibited in galleries in UK and America. It was a pity therefore that we did not have more time to spend in the Shetlands as there were numerous old buildings and ruins of characteristic dry stone wall construction and she could have had a field day there.

One evening there was the intriguingly unique experience of eating in the Gurkha Kitchen, a restaurant run by a Gurkha family who had settled in Lerwick. By contrast the forecabin had now become the Chinese Torture Chamber, as with the north wind blowing us away from the dockside the bow mooring line kept squeaking and squealing as it see-sawed through the fairlead at irregular intervals depending on the gusts. You waited, tensed up, for the next squeal just above your head, reputedly reminiscent of the water drip on your head in the Chinese Torture of olden days. In the end I abandoned the forepeak and moved my bedding to the saloon amidships to get some sleep, being careful to cover the new material on the seat cushions first of course on this smart boat!

The route to Norway

After three days of waiting for a weather window, a favourable forecast arrived on the owner’s smartphone and it was time to go. As we motored out in the evening light it appeared they had got the buoyage wrong again, as we were going north up the channel coming south into Lerwick and the buoyage was red to port and green to starboard. But in fact this was not so much a channel into Lerwick but a way through from south to north with Lerwick a possible stopping off point on the way and so the clockwise rule still applied. All very confusing; ocean sailing is much easier! A ship with a huge bridge-like construction and small deck site aft made its way out to sea before us to port, presumably something to do with the oil industry.

At this stage we were in some 30 knots of wind but this was due to moderate, and as it was from the northwest, we were shielded by the Shetlands from big seas and swells, and anyhow this Seastream 43 with its 17 tonne displacement was much bigger and more stable than my 33 foot Westerly. The wind duly moderated overnight and we again enjoyed a variable but pleasant sail across towards Norway. There was a slight anomaly in the forecast with a southerly wind promised which never arrived but one night watch approaching the coast of Norway was especially memorable.

We were slipping along at 5-6 knots in a fair breeze with the oil rigs like strings of Christmas lights to port and starboard, sea state slight, not a cloud in the night sky and a nearly full moon shining benignly down to give us light. I was reminded of trying years ago on my very first Atlantic crossing when ocean navigation was all by astro to shoot the moon off the coast of Newfoundland, to cross it with a position line from a previous sun shot to obtain our present position. But the moon moves very fast and my maths was always weak and it was hopeless. Luckily we came up to Cape Race at the southern tip of Newfoundland next day in daylight, and certainly the sea and spray were racing past it at the time. So we made it, Portland UK to Portland USA (Maine) without mishap, and all the way back as well in spite of my having to hang onto a shroud with one hand and shoot the sun with the other in stormy winds on the nose all the way from half way across the Atlantic to the chops of the Channel.

More motoring in the morning against the north wind which was meant to be southerly to close the lovely Norwegian coast and to make our way northwards towards Ålesund.

That evening we put into a small enclosed harbour by a cluster of houses on one of the first islands we came to as we moved inland. We were greeted and welcomed to Norway by a couple on their motor boats who took our lines and helped us tie up alongside. The whole scene and situation was so typical of this brilliant country, people and coastline.

Plenty of snow as we approach the coastline!

The next morning we made our way in sunshine to Ålesund, where I jumped ship onto Gåssten by previous arrangement. And what a way to go ski touring in Norway, being transported up and down the fjords in a well appointed, comfortable ship, looked after by Sven the skipper, Tash and Annie, I felt like royalty, and with a group of marvelously mad Italian girls as fellow ski tourers, and one or two slightly older British gentlemen to leaven the lump.

On the other hand I did discover that I was older than I thought I was and might have to revise my plans for ski touring in South Georgia in the Antarctic spring. But that’s another story…

 

 

 

 

Celebrating our first 1,000 miles!

As we ended our circuit around Skye, Tim calculated our approximate mileage since we set off from Bristol in late May. Much to our surprise, we hit about 1,026 nautical miles! (1 nm = 1.852 km = 6,076.1 ft = 1.1508 statute miles… Source: Wikipedia)

We know we have not yet crossed oceans and wider seas, but we feel that we have sailed in places which were both extremely challenging and beautiful. The challenges were mainly brought about by the relatively rapid changes in weather and sea states, following strong wind gusts, contrasting the rare, still moments. The beauty – well, our previous blog posts say it all.

Pop that Champagne!

We had a bottle of Bollinger given to us back in 2012 by our friend Dan, as part of a ‘box of treats’ – a token of friendship and gratitude. His gesture has huge significance to us, because almost 4 years ago to the day of publishing this blog post, Dan went missing for almost 4 days in the Alps while speedflying down the Jungfraujoch with Tim, Liam, and another Dan. When it became apparent that he did not land in the agreed location after a few hours, it was time to set up a search.

Dan shared his experience publicly for the first time during an Explorers Connect talk he conducted with Tim in Bristol last spring.

Now we know that he had miraculously escaped the rushing glacial water by cutting himself loose from his wing and swimming to a small undercut in a deep gorge. Here, he waited – for approximately 75 to 80 hours. He had no idea that his friends had started their own search party after the local mountain search and rescue teams were letting up on Day 2.

We were overwhelmed by people’s generosity in terms of their donations (which consequently helped pay for helicopter launches and hospital bills), and most especially for their time. Volunteers came from further afield to help in the search. No one knew whether we would find him, but we were all hopeful. On Day 4 of the search, Dan was spotted by his friend Nadeem, crouched down below in the gorge, and barely visible from above.

Dan & Tim on Shadowfax
Sailing Shadowfax in the Bristol Channel 2015 with Dan & Tim

The best miracle was the selfless combined effort of several people (many who were previously strangers to each other) in finding him – and knowing that he is now working on his dream sailing his very own yacht: seeking adventure, seeing and experiencing the world.

A great day to celebrate with the bottle of Bollinger…Cheers to you Dan, cheers to Friends, cheers to Life! We love you!

Left to Right: Tim, Ginny, Kara, Julie, John - raising a glass to love, life, friendship, and sailing!
Left to Right: Tim, Ginny, Kara, Julie, John – raising a glass to love, life, friendship, and sailing!

We’re also raising our glasses to pay tribute to another speed flyer, Harrison Fast, who went missing earlier this year in the same area. May you rest in peace, knowing your family and friends understood that love is adventure, and adventure is love…and that wherever you are now, it is pure bliss.

A Fly through the Isle of Skye

We purposely saved sailing around Skye and waited for Tim’s dad, step mum, and our friend Ginny to join us for a week-long circumnavigation of the isle. Unfortunately, a week is not long enough to take in the entirety of the vast land and seascape, so we opted for a mixture of culture (i.e. a visit to a whisky distillery), sport (walking + Island Workout Jane-Fonda Style), and cuisine (cooking and eating all the provisions) while sailing to beautiful anchorages.

Much to John and Julie’s dismay (mostly due to the fact that they had driven 9 hours to get to us), we had a set of ‘On Board Rules’ to follow…which ended up becoming a week-long joke, with Julie calling Tim the Rule-Master!

Skye is known for higher rainfall compared to other areas of Scotland, and apparently to live full-time on the isle, you have to be extremely hardy. We started our week from Kyle of Lochalsh, sailed through Kyle Rhea in calm conditions and were surprised at the 2.5 knot* tides swishing us about despite having the motor on to help us out. We would be doing 5 knots through the water* but actually just moving 2.5 knots over ground*! Once we cleared the tides, we raised the sails and set course for the Sleat Peninsula, where we were going to anchor for the first night. The day was hot and the wind blew a steady breeze.

Paddleboarding Skye
Paddleboarding Skye – daring to get out on the board fully clothed!

Our second day was a bit colder, but the sun somewhat stayed out. Everyday seemed to be a guess as to whether the sun will make an appearance! Our day was relatively smooth-sailing, and we managed to pick up a mooring at Carbost. After dinner and a few drinks, Tim and Ginny blasted the tunes and out came the USB-disco ball, probably much to the detriment of our fellow sailing neighbours.

We decided that the rainy Monday should be spent wandering Carbost, where the Talisker Distillery is located. The tour was interesting, although we were not allowed to take any photos of the process. The whisky is still generally made the traditional way, except for a few changes to machinery in 1962, after a large fire struck down much of the original distillery. Talisker whisky started its life in 1830, as the ‘only distillery on the Isle of Skye’ and continues to run through to today. Read more about it here.

copyright Chasing Contours
Whisky Sunset

A Flood in the Aft Cabin

After two nights in Carbost, we sailed towards Duntulm, where we expected to be anchored in a sheltered bay. We were sailing along fine in the morning until Julie came up to deck saying, “Our cabin is flooding!” Tim jumped down the steps to inspect, and sure enough, some of the bilges were filled with not salt – but fresh water! This was somewhat a relief, because it would mean that we were not on the verge of sinking or calling a mayday.

He then checked our water tank, and it was very low at about 25 litres. Julie had left the tap on accidentally! We now had a bit of distance to cover before we could get to a port that offered water. Thankfully, Uig was somewhat on the way and although we were not sure if the pier would have water, we took the chance. Thankfully, the ferry pier staff were happy to lend us a hand and we filled the tank with no dramas!

Duntulm Shore Lines

Our next anchorage was between the mainland and this little island off Duntulm, in between Duntulm Bay and Tulm Bay. We set shore lines because of the high winds we expected overnight. It was probably the worst night’s sleep we have had for a while, because the boat was rocking about with the wind funnelling through the bays. The shorelines held fast. We explored the little island in the morning, peering over some fluffy Cormorant chicks on the cliff.

IMG_2905
Ginny and John mini hike on Island off Duntulm
Walking the uninhabited island, which happened to be full of wild parsley and Cormorant poop!
copyright Chasing Contours
Shore lines to the island kept us safe, but it did not stop the rocking…

The holiday with family and friends flew by too quickly, just as quick as we had circumnavigated Skye; we would have liked to see more, but perhaps we will be back – one day! One thing for sure, it was a nice break from the helm and galley for both of us!

Cheers! Here’s to jolly good nights…

 

*Definitions:

knot – (/nɒt/) is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile (1.852 km) per hour, approximately 1.151 mph (source: Wikipedia). It originated from sailors trailing a line of rope with regular knots tied on, such that as they sailed forward, they would count the knots on the rope as they moved along relative to time.

speed over ground – the boat’s given speed as it is travelling forward. This can differ from the ‘through the water’ reading.

speed through the water – more often than not, tidal streams will have an effect on the boat’s forward speed. It can add to it (yipeee!) or it can work against it (boo).

More explained clearly here.

Oooh Lala, Ullapool!

After hunkering down for a weekend at Stornoway following the crazy storm that hit Scotland and the North Sea in early August, we headed towards Ullapool to meet up with Dan, Charlotte, baby Ella, Hugh, Robyn, and Scott – who we met randomly at the Outer Hebrides. They were all sailing too, and we spent about a day together having a barbecue on Scott and Robyn’s Goldseeker, and diving ‘The Politician‘.

Dolphins of The Minch
Dolphins of The Minch

Dan and Charlotte kindly offered us a ‘real’ bed (with an electric blanket!!!) in one of their guest rooms, and we had the pleasure of meeting their friend, Denise Evans – yet another sailing legend, it seems! Denise is in her mid-80s. She comes from a mainly mountaineering family, and yet started sailing on her own (we don’t know when she started sailing but she’s owned her own same boat for over 30 years). She’s sailed right up in the Arctic, and all the way down south around Patagonia. They only avoided Cape Horn because of a storm. We gathered around the charts of Iceland and Faroe Islands, and Denise was happily recalling some of her favourite passages.

Dinner with Dan. Charlotte, Denise, and Ella
Dinner with Dan. Charlotte, Denise, and Ella

Dan and Charlotte learned quite a lot of their love for the higher latitudes from Denise, and when the time came for their own adventure, they built their own 34ft Benford Dory junk sailboat, Hestur and sailed around the Atlantic coasts for 18 months. Check out their inspiring blogs: Dan’s and Charlotte’s. They are now busy raising their daughter, Ella, who is very little (about 10 months!) is training her sea legs with the little sailing adventures around Scotland.

Hestur
Hestur built by Dan and Charlotte

After a break at the Summer Isles, we headed back into Ullapool and had a lovely evening meal at Robyn and Scott’s – two home cooked meals in a weekend! There are some home comforts we tend to take for granted, which we appreciate a lot more after living on a sail boat for a few months.

Dinner at Robyn & Scott's
Dinner at Robyn & Scott’s